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Pascal Siakam Leads Raptors to Game 1 NBA Finals Win over Steph Curry, Warriors

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2019

TORONTO, ONTARIO - MAY 30:  Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors celebrates his teams lead against the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter during Game One of the 2019 NBA Finals at Scotiabank Arena on May 30, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Toronto Raptors wasted no time announcing their presence at their first NBA Finals in franchise history.

Toronto defeated the Golden State Warriors 118-109 in Thursday's Game 1 at Scotiabank Arena, handing the two-time defending champions just their second loss in an NBA Finals game since 2016.

Pascal Siakam led the way with 32 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two blocks while hitting a head-turning 14-of-17 shots from the field. Kawhi Leonard added 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Marc Gasol (20 points and seven boards) and Fred VanVleet (15 points) contributed to a balanced attack.

Stephen Curry (34 points) and Klay Thompson (21 points) did what they could for the Warriors, but they were the only visitors to score more than 10 points in defeat.

          

X-Factor Siakam Proves He Can Swing Series in Raptors' Favor

This series was billed as Leonard against the Warriors.

After all, he is the transcendent star they traded for who drilled the winning shot in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers and out-dueled potential MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. He was also primed to challenge Golden State in the 2017 Western Conference Finals as a member of the San Antonio Spurs before he suffered an injury in Game 1.

The Warriors were well aware of that reality and responded by swarming him in the first half with five-time All-Defensive selection Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala—who won the 2015 NBA Finals MVP largely because of his defense on LeBron James.

They also had size to throw at him in Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell and were quick to trap him in the pick-and-roll to take away his mid-range looks.

It was clear someone besides Leonard was going to have to swing the series in the Raptors’ favor, and Siakam laid the foundation for becoming a Toronto legend. He was a matchup nightmare for the Warriors throughout the contest, attacking the basket with notable aggression, getting out in transition and extending his game beyond the arc.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Spicy P takes over in Game 1 as the Raptors secure their first Finals win in franchise history! 32 PTS | 8 REB | 5 AST | 2 BLK https://t.co/yVXGxXEvHK

Dan Feldman @DanFeldmanNBA

Pascal Siakam's 32 points are the most in a player's first NBA Finals game since Kevin Durant scored 36 in 2012

He carried the offense in the third quarter when the Raptors attempted to hold off Golden State’s typical surge and didn’t even have much trouble when Green guarded him thanks to an explosive first step and the ability to back him down when the Michigan State product was in foul trouble.

The fact Siakam consistently provided an answer every time the Warriors battled back in the second half was the most encouraging development for Toronto. The Eastern Conference representative must continue counterpunching throughout the series because the team that won three of the last four titles isn’t just going to lie down when it finds itself trailing.

Relying on Leonard, who was noticeably limping at times in Thursday’s game, to always provide the counterpunch isn’t an ideal formula against the trio of Curry, Thompson and Green.

Chris Walder @WalderSports

Breaking: Kawhi Leonard has, and has always had help.

Mitch Goldich @mitchgoldich

Every NBA Finals since 1999 has included LeBron, Kobe, Wade, Duncan or Pascal Siakam.

Brian Mahoney @briancmahoney

At this rate, it's going to be pretty weird when Pascal Siakam wins Most Improved Player after winning #NBAFinals MVP.

Siakam was that secondary guy all season and even showed off his defensive ability by guarding Thompson for stretches. Opponents shot 6.3 percent worse than their normal averages when he guarded them during the regular season, per NBA.com, so the same versatility he displayed on the offensive end makes him a legitimate defensive weapon in this series against an opponent with multiple elite scoring options.

If the Siakam that showed up to play in Thursday’s game is an indication of what the Raptors are going to get alongside Leonard for the entirety of this series, Golden State’s dynasty is officially endangered.

           

Warriors In Unfamiliar Territory Facing Talent Disparity

The Warriors aren't supposed to be the ones with the talent disparity.

After all, they have five potential future Hall of Famers in Curry, Thompson, Green, Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, an NBA Finals MVP in Iguodala (who may also have a Hall of Fame case) and a playoff-tested group that is accustomed to playing at this time of year.

Yet, this version of the Warriors is not the one who could challenge any team in league history.

Iguodala limped off the court in the final two minutes with a calf injury, Durant didn't even play after missing the entire Western Conference Finals with his own calf injury and Cousins was severely limited in his eight minutes of action. It was Cousins' first playing time since he suffered a quad injury in the first round, and he looked slow on the defensive end and missed both of his field-goal attempts on offense.

Nick Friedell @NickFriedell

Andre Iguodala came down on his left leg with 1:55 left in the fourth quarter and was limping around after that. Iguodala missed Game 4 of the Western Conference finals with a left calf injury.

Mark Medina @MarkG_Medina

Steve Kerr said he thinks Andre Iguodala “is okay,” but they will have more details tomorrow

Reid Forgrave @ReidForgrave

Depending on its severity, this potential Andre Iguodala injury could portend BIG things for this Finals.

That left Curry and Thompson on an island, especially with Green shooting just 2-of-9 from the field and showing more fight getting in Drake's face than he did Toronto's.

By contrast, Siakam and Toronto's supporting cast showed just how deep the Eastern Conference champion is this year.

Golden State had no answer for Gasol with Cousins so limited. He worked in pick-and-rolls and exploited mismatches on switches by either going to the blocks against guards or hitting from the outside against bigs unwilling to venture too far from the basket.

VanVleet was also the best player on the floor for brief stretches as an immediate scoring spark off the bench with the ability to hit from downtown. While his 21 points on seven three-pointers in Game 5 against Milwaukee was his shining moment of these playoffs, he does so much more than shoot.

He is in full control as a court general who was often the one working in those pick-and-pops with Gasol and making the right reads. He also chased Curry on the defensive side, which is one of the most daunting tasks in the entire NBA.

Even Danny Green, who was an ugly 1-of-15 from deep in the final four games against the Bucks, found his shot with three triples in the win.

The bottom line is Toronto won an NBA Finals game with Leonard—arguably the best two-way player in the league—shooting 5-of-14 from the field and five-time All-Star Kyle Lowry shooting just 2-of-9. Those two figure to play better on the offensive end in future contests, which is all the more concerning for a Warriors squad that may not be able to match up for the first time in its dynasty.

Vincent Goodwill @VinceGoodwill

The Raps have a lot of bigs. Or just enough good ones that the Warriors will need Boogie Cousins. He can’t be just a luxury here

Jared Wade @Jared_Wade

Starting to think maybe they're better with the truly unstoppable 6'11" scoring machine who almost never misses shots.

The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Golden State in the 2016 NBA Finals, but even that was explainable thanks to a Green suspension and one of the top two or three players in NBA history going into complete takeover mode for three games straight. The Warriors still had more top-to-bottom talent overall, even if they couldn't stop the singular force that was LeBron James.

This series feels different.

Leonard is the star and Siakam can play the Kyrie Irving role as dominant No. 2 option, but the Raptors have contributors all over the court and coming off the bench. A fully healthy Golden State overwhelms every team in the league based on talent alone, but it currently doesn't have the pieces to completely match up without Durant and a healthy Cousins and Iguodala.

Curry and Thompson may have to take a lesson from 2016 James and Irving and take over every game if Golden State is going to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the third straight year.

           

What's Next?

Game 2 is in Toronto on Sunday.

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